If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I Am Worried

I am not a worrier.  I take things in my stride.  I am the calm that worriers seek when they are exceptionally stressed.

But I am worried.

I am concerned that my children are becoming independent in an age where this economic depression will follow them for the rest of their lives. But I am not worried about that.  They are both the kind of people who can turn things around and I have faith that they and their generation will do just that.

I am disturbed that most states do not have any laws or policies against shackling pregnant prisoners and that women are forced to give birth in chains.  I am disgusted when I read the comments to articles such as this one and find my fellow countrymen (and women) defending this practice and claiming that any woman would deserve this.  But I am not worried about it.  Unfortunately I am aware that atrocities occur to disadvantaged and marginalized people the world over.  It has always been and, while we need to fight for social justice, I don't see this as a new trend.  I also recognize the hard work done by activists to make change and realize that change is slow to come.

But I am worried.  I am worried about my country.  I am worried about the future when we rewrite the past.  I first became worried when I learned that Texas had voted in changes to their curriculum that ignore important historical facts (such as the separation of church and state) and appears to rewrite much of the racism that is a significant part of this country's past. And while some may feel write it off as Texas being extreme, they are a huge force in textbook adoptions.  A significant number of my family members write or help publish textbooks and I know that as Texas goes, so goes the country.

But today I became really worried.  Today I learned that Arizona (yes, that Arizona) is banning ethnic studies.  I don't think it is just because I am an academic that this worries me so much.  What we teach our children shapes what they will become and what the future will hold.  When we rewrite (or erase) history we are ensuring that history will repeat itself.  We have made too many strides to backslide like this and I am worried about where we are going in this country.

I am also confused. The article claims that "the bill bans classes that promote resentment towards a race or class of people."  How exactly does one teach American History without doing that?  Can you teach how are country was (so-called) founded without hating the Europeans?  Can you teach about slavery without hating White people?  Yes, of course you can. Because it is not about the facts that you teach but about how information is conveyed and the degree to which we teach students critical thinking; the degree to which we present the facts--as ugly as they are--and allow them to draw conclusions about right and wrong.  But I don't think that is what the bill has in mind.

The bill also bans classes "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group."  Again I am confused.  My recollection of American History is that it was taught primarily for a specific group--White Anglo-Saxen Protestants.  I would go even further to say what I learned was the history of white men. But I don't think that is what the bill is trying to stop (imagine if it were?).

I don't know what is going on in Arizona or Texas.  I know this is but one in a list of atrocious decisions made by Arizona's legislature but this one scares me more than the others (and that's a saying a lot as the others are pretty scary).  I recognize that there is no truly objective curriculum in the world. Educating people involves choosing some information over another; deciding what constitutes the "important stuff"--the cannon of knowledge we will hand out.  I teach, I get it.  I struggle with it all the time.  But there is a difference between presenting alternative views and instilling students with the ability to draw their own conclusions and erasing the history and culture of entire populations.

I have to ask myself, is this really us?


Annie said...

Reading this, you make me worried, too. I already am so disheartened at the so-called educational system that pretends to teach "critical thinking" skills, when what it really does is mold students to follow "formula" thinking in order to pass idiosyncratic standardized tests. I'd hoped bringing Barack Obama into office would tend to halt backward thinking, but Texas and Arizona's decisions are proving me wrong.

ScientistMother said...

What worries me more is that as the USA goes, the world goes...where are we heading?

blue milk said...

Dismal stuff all right. But good post and good reminder.

Ianqui said...

I recently read an article (New Yorker? I don't remember) about the influence of the textbook industry in Texas. So yes, it's terrifying. But maybe publishing companies will have to change their model if the public in other states can succeed in expressing their outrage. Well, I hold a hope that that's one avenue we can take, anyway.

This *is* really shocking stuff.

Anonymous said...

... and before that it was Kansas and other states teaching creationism at the expense of science. Why can't our children just be taught, taught the facts, and taught how to think and to analyze? Why must public-funded and required education be used as a tool for disseminating propaganda?

-- C's K

Julie said...

I had no idea that women giving birth in prison are shackled. I'm going to go back and read the article again and do some further study. Thank you for pointing that one out.

As for history, I am a big believer in teaching facts, no matter how ugly the facts are. History is so important, and it worries me that many people do not read it or care about the past. I agree with you that facts can be presented in a way that is not hateful to any race, group, or class.

Maggie May said...

The more independent learning and thinking, critical thinking, we can offer and teach our children, the less these things can impede.